Rationing was introduced temporarily, for a time during the twentieth century, by the British, Australian, and United States Governments’. The most affected location was Britain, during and immediately after a war.
At the start of the Second World War in 1939, the United Kingdom was importing 70% of its cheese and sugar, nearly 80% of fruits and about 70% of its cereals and fats. The U.K. also imported more than 50% of its meat and relied heavily on imported grain to feed its livestock. This dependence on external food sources affected the British people’s way of life.
One of Germany's first acts of war was to attack shipping bound for Britain, believing they could starve the island nation into submission.
Historical fiction authors write about how events shaped our ancestors, our grandparents, parents, and have influenced us, however subtly. No one event, not even our birth, and genetics makes us who we are. Without the rationing of World War II, I'd have been an entirely different person. That is history in action today. Let me explain...
Below is a poster for the “Dig for Victory” campaign, encouraging Britons to supplement their rations by cultivating gardens and allotments.
Food Rationing in Australia
I'll start with a few background facts about how Australians initially welcomed rationing and price control. Our people had been directly threatened by the Japanese. Their powerful Air-force was bombing our North East, North West and Northern coasts and infiltrating inland as far as Katherine, to bomb Australia's north.
Then there was the shock of Australia's largest city Sydney having a ship sunk in her harbour by a Japanese midget submarine, one of three that made it through our defences at Sydney Harbour's entrance. Australian's felt threatened and pulled together into “War Mode”, accepting a rapid introduction of rationing.
On May 14, 1942, rationing officially began for food and clothing. The main purpose proposed by the government was to curb inflation and ensure that shortages didn't occur due to possible hoarding. Australians were never short of food or as severely rationed as civilians in the United Kingdom.
From what my mother told me and what I've since read, World War II rationing led to a hatred of “The Yanks”, by young Australian men. There were frequent brawls between Australian and American servicemen in the streets of Sydney, as the price to ask an Australian woman for a date, or to accept an invitation to dinner was the unwritten rule of a gift of a pair of stockings and a box of chocolates, plus cigarettes. Neither stockings nor chocolates, nor even an excess of cigarettes were readily available to Australian servicemen. Not so for the lucky Americans, however.
Mind you, my criminally inclined father could access all the quality cigars he desired for himself. My mum never needed to curtail her chain-smoking or stocking wearing habit during the rationing period and she did not need to befriend an American. She was resourceful on her own account. Even our housekeeper seemed to have spare chocolate left over to give to the three children in her care.
I remember taking an intense dislike to an Easter Egg the housekeeper gave me when I was barely old enough to crawl, at a time when post-war rationing would still have been in place. I stuffed that chocolate into the corner of the stair carpet hoping that she'd not find it there.
About the only thing rationed in my childhood home were ethics and good parenting. Strangely, or maybe because of her failure, my Mum set out to instil a strong sense of ethics and a humanitarian attitude into her two daughters.
I never heard any Australian complain of a food shortage. Suburban homes were built on a quarter-acre block, with plenty of room for a home vegetable garden, a few hens, and a couple of fruit trees. A barter system, of trading with your neighbour, for whatever they had in abundance was commonplace.
There was a Singer sewing machine in most homes and worn sheets soon became pillowcases, and worn pillowcases, became handkerchiefs. Not a scrap of cloth was wasted.
The economy boomed in Australia during the war, with full employment. Women loved their new-found freedoms, earning money and they wanted to spend it, while they were free from
being under the control of a paternal head of the house. As a result, a thriving black market developed. In 1943, ration books intended for many Western Australians were stolen. I can tell you for certain that my parents entertained lavishly, with the finest foods and liquor in their luxury Melbourne apartment. There were no servings of “ration sausages” at our home. They even, accidentally served cherry brandy to me when I was three years old. I was rolling around drunk at one of the feasts held by my black-marketeer parents. My mum did put a halt to my drinking after that. Reference: Trove, Stolen Ration Cards.
Meanwhile, more honest families would have abided by the Australian Law that made it illegal to buy, cook, serve or eat meat, on several days of the week.
My parents' black-marketeer activities escalated — to the point where larger amounts of money could be had, selling land and property way over the fixed price, in under-table deals, to returning servicemen.
In 1944, many Australians, were objecting to restrictions and rationing placed on them by the ruling Labour government. The Liberal Party of Australia was founded following a meeting of non-Labour candidates, called on to unite, by the then Leader of the Opposition (United Australia Party’s) Robert Menzies. Eighty men and women from eighteen non-Labour political parties and organisations attended the first Canberra conference.
Following the end of the Second World War, the new Liberal Party's policy, "that Australians should have greater personal freedom and choice than that offered under Labour’s post-war Socialist plans," gained favour. The majority of Australians had formerly been Labour supporters. Now, tired of rationing, voters swung to the Liberal Party’s election promise to eliminate rationing.
Reference: Trove, Stolen Ration Cards.
Rationing and Price Control in Australia Continued after WWII
The Brisbane Telegraph printed this recipe for mock sausages:
The Brisbane Telegraph printed this recipe for mock sausages:
Take one cupful of bread crumbs, one cupful of cooked potatoes, one cupful of oatmeal porridge. Salt and pepper to taste, half a finely chopped onion, and a small quantity of sage. Mix, roll in flour into the shape of a sausage, then fry in boiling fat until crisp and brown.
The only thing sizzling in fat until crisp and brown at our home, during rationing, was the Yorkshire pudding to be served with a prime roast beef and served with Zombies. Zombie
Ingredients: 1 oz. amber rum
1 oz. Jamacia rum
4 dashes cherry brandy
4 dashes apricot brandy
1 dash papaya juice
Juice of half a lime
Method: Serve in tall glass with cracked ice. Top with 1/2 oz (75.5% alcohol) 151-proof-rum.
Decorate with a green and red cherry and slice of orange. Serve with straws.
Pour a cherry brandy into a liqueur glass and allow some fool to leave it where the three-year-old will drink it.
I believe that I was a true chip off the old block and before I fell drunk, I extended my liqueur glass and requested; "More, please."
Australians Tired of Rationing Brought a Change of Political Climate.
After winning office in 1949, Robert Gordon Menzies, leader of the new Liberals, in coalition with the Country Party, fulfilled his promises to end rationing and the related fixed price on essential items. My parents' empire, built on the back of black marketeering brought about by fixed price on land and properties, crashed. For the following year my mother's fashion house and my father's architecture business incomes slid, on a downward spiral due to their extravagant lifestyle, living way beyond their means, and reckless gambling.
By 1950 the cracks in my family's lifestyle were showing. My sister and I (shown in the character Emily in the novel To Kill or Escape by Author Ryn Shell) became aware of the danger and the pain associated with being children within a family torn apart by gambling excess and crime. What followed became the first of my Australian historical fiction novels. The novels in the Stolen Years Series follow Australia through the Menzies’ era, 1949-1966.
My novels show the travesty of justice, heaped on the Australian Aboriginal people, in the story of Jarrah.
The novels share a family saga of crime, betrayal, resilience, and love that has been heavily influenced by my own personal experiences.
Australian Historical Fiction by Ryn Shell
Author, artist, Ryn Shell is the chief blogger, site sponsor, and volunteer author's cross-promotion manager for the historical fiction authors whose blogs appear on this website.
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